MoboReader> Literature > Once Aboard the Lugger-- The History of George and his Mary

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Once Aboard the Lugger-- The History of George and his Mary By A. S. M. Hutchinson Characters: 17674

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Abishag The Shunamite In Meath Street.

I.

The most tremendous crises between man and man commonly begin with exchange of the customary banalities. Charlotte Corday gave Marat "Bonsoir, citoyen," ere she drove her knife. This was no cloak to hide her purpose. We are so much creatures of convention that the man who sets out, hell in breast, to avenge himself upon another, cannot forbear to give him greeting before ever he comes upon the matter between them.

George, involuntarily straightening his back as he remembered how desperately he had hoodwinked this Bill, had upon a fool's errand packed him to that inn, as involuntarily passed him the customary words.

"Hullo, Bill!" he said. "How on earth did you know I was here?"

He awaited the burst of reproach; the torrent of fury.

These did not come. About Bill's mouth, as from George to Mary he glanced, there were the lines of amusement; no menace lay in his clear blue eyes.

"Went to look for you at the hospital," Bill replied. "Met that man Franklyn, and he told me you very probably were here."

George pushed ahead with the banalities. "Surprised to see Miss Humfray here?" he asked. "You met her, of course, at my uncle's while-while"-this was dangerous ground, and he hurried over it-"while I was away," he said quickly; blew his nose.

Bill told him: "Yes. Not a bit surprised." The creases of amusement became more evident. He shook Mary's hand.

"Ah!" George said. "Um! Quite so. Sit down, Bill."

They took seats. Constraint was upon these people; each sat upon the extreme edge of the chair selected.

After a pause, "You've been to Herons' Holt, then?" George remarked.

"Yesterday. Yesterday night."

"Ah! Yesterday. Thursday, so to speak. Um! Margaret quite well?"

"Quite."

The deadly pause came on again. Mary looked appealing to her George. George, his right boot in a patch of sunlight, earnestly was watching it as, twisting it this way and that, the polish caught the rays.

It lay with herself to make a thrust through this fearful silence. Upon a timid little squeak she shot out: "Mr. Marrapit quite well?"

"Quite," Bill told her. "Quite. A little bit-" He checked; again the silence fell.

Mary no longer could endure it. Impulsively leaning forward, arms outstretched, hands clasped, "Oh, Mr. Wyvern!" she cried. "You're not angry with George, are you? He couldn't help sending you to that inn, could he?"

Constraint fled. "Of course I'm not," Bill declared. "Not a bit. I've come here to congratulate you both. I-"

George sprang forward; grasped Bill's hand. "Good old buck!" he cried. "Good old Bill! I'm awfully sorry, Bill. You're a stunner, Bill. Isn't he a stunner, Mary?"

"He is a stunner," Mary agreed.

The stunner, red beneath this praise, warmly returned George's grip. When they released, "I say, George, you are an ass, you know," he said. "Why on earth didn't you tell me what you were up to?"

"You weren't there, old man, when it began. You were in London. How on earth was I to know your paper would come plunging into the business?" The memory of the pains that paper had caused him swept all else from George's mind. Indignation seized him. "It was a scandalous bit of work, Bill. 'Pon my soul it's simply shameful that a newspaper can go and interfere in a purely private matter like that. Yes, it is, Mary. Don't you interrupt. Bill understands. I don't blame you, Bill; you were doing your duty. I blame the editor. What did he want to push into it for? I tell you that paper drove me up and down the country till I was pretty well dead. It's all very well for you to grin, Bill."

"I'm not grinning."

"You are grinning." George threw a bitter note into his declamations. "Of course, you can afford to grin. What was agony to me was hot stuff for you. I expect you've made your reputation over this show. Everything's turned out all right for you-"

Bill took that bitter note. "Rather!" he broke in. "Rather! I pulled it off, didn't I? I found the rotten cat, didn't I? I wasn't made a fool of for two days in a country inn, was I? I've not got the sack all through you, have I?"

George instantly forgot his personal sorrows. "Oh, I say, Bill, you haven't, have you?"

Bill, not expecting the interruption, confessed a little lamely: "No, I haven't. I haven't-as it turns out. But I might have-if it wasn't for-" He paused a moment; sadly said, "Anyway, just as I thought I'd got her, I've lost Margaret again."

In those fierce days when her Bill was the Daily Special Commissioner, Margaret had confided in Mary the promise Mr. Marrapit had made should Bill find the cat. Now Mary was filled with sympathy. "Oh, Mr. Wyvern!" she cried, "I am sorry! What has happened? How do you know? Do tell us everything of when you went to Herons' Holt last night."

Bill took a chair. He said gloomily: "There's not much to tell. I felt I couldn't wait at that infernal inn any longer, so I left the detective in charge, went to the inn where we'd found George, didn't see him, and came back to Herons' Holt. I saw old Marrapit for about two minutes in the hall. He foamed at me all about George, foamed out that I was one of George's friends, and foamed me out of the door before I could get in a word. Said I never was to come near the place again. I asked him about Margaret, and he had a kind of fit-a kind of fit."

George said softly: "I know what you mean, old man."

"A kind of fit," Bill gloomily repeated. Then he struck one clenched fist into the palm of the other hand. "And hang it!" he cried, "I've won her! According to the bargain old Marrapit made with me, I've won her. If it had not been for me you wouldn't have taken the cat to that hut in the wood, and if you hadn't taken it there Marrapit wouldn't have it now. It's through me he got it, isn't it?"

"Bill," George told him, "it is. You rotted my show all right. No mistake about that."

It was a fearful situation as between these two young men. In silence, in gloom, they gazed each upon the ground.

Bill took a glance at George's face; turned hurriedly from the despair there stamped; set his eyes upon my pretty Mary. He gave a sigh.

"But, George, old man, you've come out of it the better," he said. "You've lost the money you wanted, but you've got your-you've got Miss Humfray. I've lost my-I've lost Margaret."

In great melancholy George rose; crossed to his Mary; sat upon the arm of her chair; caressed her pretty shoulders.

"You don't know what you're talking about, Bill. Bill, we're in a most fearful hole. We haven't got a sou, and I've got no work. You're doing well. You're making money. You're bound to get Margaret in time. As for us-"

Bill was deeply stirred. "I say, I am sorry," he told them. He sat up very straight. "Look here, don't get down on your luck. Come out and have lunch with me and tell me just how you're fixed. If a small loan will do you any good I'm certain my guv'nor will stand it. He likes you awfully, George. Come on. I shan't see you again otherwise for some time. I'm off on another Special Commissioner job for the Daily, you know."

George gave a slight shudder. "Oh? Thank goodness, I'm not the object of it this time. What is it?"

"What is it? Why, you've seen the Daily this morning, haven't you?"

"I'll never open the infernal thing again."

Bill did not heed the aspersion. "It's really rather funny, you know," he went on. "Look here." He tugged at his pocket; produced a Daily.

A pencil dislodged by the paper fell to the ground; rolled beneath the table.

Bill stooped after it. The cat that lay there, disturbed, walked forth-arching its proud orange back.

II.

With eyes that goggled tremendously Bill stared at it; with a finger that shook he pointed at it; turned his head to George. "George," he asked, "whose cat is that?"

George looked at Mary; gave a bitter little laugh. "I suppose it's ours," he replied. "Eh, Mary?"

A sad little smile his Mary gave, "I suppose it is," she agreed.

From one to the other Bill looked, suspicion in those goggling eyes.

"You suppose it is?" he emphasised. Again he swiftly looked from George to Mary; again stared at the splendid orange form. "George," he said sharply-"George, what is that cat's name?"

George regarded him with a whimsical smile. "Bill, you old duffer, you don't think it's the Rose, do you?"

Yet more sharply than before Bill spoke. "George, is that cat's name Abishag?"

"Abishag? What an awful-"

Bill turned from him with an impatient gesture. He called to the cat, "Abishag! Abishag!"

With upreared tail the fine creature trotted to him.

"Good Lord!" George broke out. "Is that your cat, Bill?"

Bill turned upon him. "My cat! You know thundering well it's not my cat."

"But it knows you, Mr. Wyve

rn," Mary told him wonderingly.

There was sorrow, a look of pity in this young man's eyes as reproachfully he regarded my Mary.

He swung round upon George. "George, you've made a fool of me once-"

"I don't know what on earth's the matter with you," George told him.

With knitted brows Bill for a moment searched his face. "I ask you point-blank," he said slowly. "Did you steal this cat, George?"

George struck the stern young man upon the back. "Is that what you're driving at, you old ass? Stole it! D'you suppose I'll ever touch a cat again? That's the infernal cat Mrs. Major left in that hut when she hooked off the Rose. Marrapit told you, didn't he?"

Into a chair Bill collapsed-legs thrust straight before him, head against the cushioned back. He gasped. "George, this is a licker, a fair licker." Enormously this staggered man swelled as he inhaled a tremendous breath; upon a vast sigh he let it go. "That cat-" he said. He got to his legs and paced the room; astonished, Mary and George regarded him. "That cat-I'll bet my life that's the cat!"

III.

My Mary was trembling before this fearful agitation. For support she took her George's hand. "Oh, Mr. Wyvern!" she cried, "whatever is it? Have we got into another awful trouble through those dreadful, dreadful cats?"

"Look at the Daily," Bill said. "Look at the Daily. George, give me a cigarette. I must smoke. This is an absolute licker."

My frightened Mary jumped for the paper where it had fallen; spread it upon the table; opened it. "Oh, George!" she cried. "Oh, George!"; pressed a pretty finger upon these flaming words:

ANOTHER CAT OUTRAGE.

AMAZING STORY.

MR. VIVIAN HOWARD'S FAMOUS PET

STOLEN WHILE BACK TURNED.

"DAILY" OFFER.

500 POUNDS FOR OUR READERS.

My Mary's golden head, my George's head of brown, pressed and nudged as with bulging eyes they read the crisp, telling paragraphs that followed in a column of leaded type.

Readers of the Daily, it appeared, would be astonished to learn that the abduction of Mr. Marrapit's famous cat, the Rose of Sharon-concerning the recovery of which all hope had now been abandoned-had been followed by a similar outrage of a nature even more sensational, more daring.

Mr. Vivian Howard, the famous author and dramatist, whose new novel, "Amy Martin," Daily readers need not be reminded, was to start in the Daily as a feuilleton on Monday week, had been robbed of his famous cat "Abishag the Shunamite."

The whole reading public were well aware of Mr. Howard's devotion to this valuable pet. Scarcely a portrait of Mr. Howard was extant that did not show Abishag the Shunamite by his side.

It was a melancholy coincidence that in the interview granted to the Daily by Mr. Howard last Saturday he had told that Abishag had sat upon his table while every single word of the manuscript of "Amy Martin" was penned. He had admitted that she was his mascot. Without her presence he could not compose a line. Daily readers would imagine, then, Mr. Howard's prostration at his appalling loss.

The occurrence had taken place on Monday night. As Daily readers were well aware, Mr. Howard had for some weeks been staying at the house of his widowed mother in Sussex Gardens. Nightly at nine it had been his custom to stroll round the gardens before settling down for three hours' work upon "Amy Martin." During his stroll Abishag would slip into the gardens, meeting her master upon his completion of the circuit.

According to this practice, Mr. Howard, on Monday night, had followed his usual custom. He believed he might possibly have walked a little slower than usual as he was pondering deeply over his final revise of the proof of "Amy Martin." Otherwise his programme was identical with its usual performance. But upon his return the cat was not to be found.

Theories, suggestions, investigations that had already been made, followed. The Daily abundantly proved that the cat had not strayed but had been deliberately stolen by someone well acquainted with Mr. Howard's nightly promenade; pointed out that this second outrage showed that no one possessing a valuable cat was safe from the machinations of a desperate gang; asked, Where are the police? and concluded with the pica sub-head:

"DAILY" OFFER.

The Daily, it appeared, on behalf of the whole reading public of Great Britain, the Colonies, America, and the many Continental countries into whose tongues Mr. Howard's novels had been translated, offered 500 pounds to the person who would return, or secure the return of, Abishag the Shunamite, and thus restore peace to the heart of England's premier novelist, whose new story, "Amy Martin," would start in the Daily on Monday week.

A sketch-map of Sussex Gardens, entitled "Scene of the Outrage," showed, by means of dotted lines, (A) Route taken by Mr. Vivian Howard; (B) Route into Gardens taken by cat; (C) Supposed route taken by thief.

Mr. Henry T. Bitt had achieved a mammoth splash.

IV.

The golden head and the head of brown lifted simultaneously from the paper; stared towards Bill, pacing, smoking.

Tremendous possibilities flickered in George's mind; made his voice husky. "Bill," he asked, "do you believe that cat is this Abishag-Vivian Howard's Abishag?"

Bill nodded absently. This man's thoughts were afar-revolving this situation he had named "licker." "Look at the description," he said. "Look at the cat. It knows its name, doesn't it? I've seen a life-size painting of Abishag. It's a cert."

George dropped upon the sofa; his thoughts, too, rushed afar.

Tremendous possibilities danced a wild jig in his Mary's pretty head; trembled her voice. "Oh, Mr. Wyvern!" she appealed, "what does it mean? What does it mean-for us?"

"It's a licker," Bill told her. "It's a fair licker."

Mary dropped by her George's side; to his her thoughts rushed.

Presently Bill threw away his cigarette; faced George. He said slowly: "Mrs. Major must have stolen this cat, George. But how did she get it? She's been at Herons' Holt the last week."

Mary gave a little jump. "Oh, Mr. Wyvern, she went up to town on Monday till Tuesday."

Bill struck a hand upon the table. "That fixes it. By gum, that fixes it! I tell you what it is, George. I tell you what it is. I believe-yes, I believe she'd seen this cat before, knew it was like the Rose, and meant to have palmed it off on old Marrapit herself so as to get him to take her back. Margaret told me all about her getting the sack. I bet my life that's it. By gum, what a splash for the Daily!" And upon this fine thought the young man stood with sparkling eyes.

George timidly touched the castles he had been building: "Bill, where do I-where do Mary and I come in?"

Bill clapped his hands together. "Why, my good old buck, don't you see?-don't you realise?-you get this L500. Just do you, eh?"

"Runnygate!" George burst out with a violent jerk; clasped his Mary in an immense hug.

"Runnygate!" came thickly from his Mary, face squashed against this splendid fellow.

When they unlocked my blushing Mary suddenly paled: "Oh, but you, Mr. Wyvern-you found it really."

"Not much," Bill declared. "Not likely. You found it. I couldn't have the reward, anyway. I'm one of the staff." He repeated the fine words: "One of the staff."

She made to thank him. "Besides," he interrupted her, "I'll make a lot out of it. I'm doing awfully well. The chief was awfully pleased with the way I ran that Rose of Sharon job. Of course this is twice as big a splash, because Vivian Howard's mixed up in it. Look what a boost it is for our new serial-look what a tremendous ad. it is for the paper! Directly Howard came to us the editor dropped the Rose like a hot coal; plumped for this and put me in charge. Now I've pulled it off, just think how bucked up he'll be! It's a licker, George-a licker all round."

"Bill," George said, "I can't speak about it. My head's whirling. I believe it's a dream."

Indeed this George had rushed through so much in the past hours, was now suddenly come upon so much, that the excitement, as he attempted realisation, was of stunning effect. He sat white, head in hands.

"Jolly soon show you!" Bill cried. "Come to the office straight away. Bring the cat. I was to meet the chief and Vivian Howard there at twelve."

George sprang to his feet; ruddy again of face. "Come on!" he cried. "Bill, if it isn't his Abishag, if there's any hitch, I'll-I'll-oh, Mary, don't build too highly on this, old girl!"

"Shall I come, Georgie?"

George hesitated. "Better not. Better not, if you don't mind. I couldn't bear to see your face if Vivian Howard says it isn't the cat."

White-faced, between tears and smiles, his Mary waved from the window as George, cat under arm, turned the corner with Bill.

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